Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4: 35-40)

This is a "contemplation" on Mark 4:35-40, the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I have tried to remain true to the text, but have tried to picture what it might have been like.

Like the other fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, I hoped that Jesus and some of his disciples would sail with me after he spoke to the crowds on the eastern shore, but I did not really expect he would pick my boat. It is hardly the finest on the lake.

And while I still don't know why, Jesus did pick my boat, and I remember being so pleased and honored.

I shoved the boat away from the shore just as the sun dipped below the horizon. In the afterglow the air was still warm and I could see Jesus was tired. He sat on a cushion in the stern and gave me a smile, but quickly I saw his eyes droop. Then he layed down, with his head on some netting, pulled a sailcloth over himself, and fell asleep. I was not surprised; he had spent the day speaking in the heat of the sun, much of the time while standing in another boat - my cousin Jonathan's.

A gentle breeze came up from the west, and we tacked into the wind. I looked on either side and in the dimming light saw the other boats, some carrying disciples and some, vering away to the northwest, carrying people going home to Capernaeum. We "captains" smiled and waved at each other.

I was so happy.

I stood in the stern just in front of Jesus and behind the disciples, who spoke quietly in the bow. I had one hand on the tiller and another on the line to the boom, pushing on the tiller and keeping the sail taut, the breeze in my face, the cool of the early evening on my cheek and the gentle but powerful tug of the wind swishing my little boat through the water. I felt very responsible!

Jesus' words went through my mind. I wondered about the mustard seed he had mentioned. We had a mustard plant outside my house, and it was very large, though, as Jesus said, it started very small. I guess he meant that big things have very small beginnings. I wondered if what he said was the beginning of something big, or if maybe He was the beginning of something big. Something big and good.

Also, he said we should put our lamp on a lampstand where everybody can see it.

What did that mean?

The wind had begun to blow brisk and cool. The waves slapped against the side of my boat. It was dark now and I looked up, but could not see as many stars as a few minutes before. Clouds. It made me nervous. Then I looked back to see Jesus still sleeping peacefully. I was glad he was resting.

I guessed that when he told us to put our lamps on a lampstand he meant that we should let people see the good, so it inspires and guides them. I remember thinking that I should be a better man or I wouldn't be much of a guide.

The wind grew stronger - the tiller and the sail began fighting me - and I felt drops of rain on my face. It was what I had feared. Squalls come up quickly on the lake. I hoped this would not be a bad one.

But it was, and now we were far from shore.

The rain came down so heavily I could barely keep my eyes open, and waves slapped over the sides of the boat. Water swirled along the bottom, running to the stern and covering my ankles when the boat pitched up at the bow.

The four disciples were fishermen - they knew what was happening - and were already bailing, using a bucket and drinking cups.

I looked back. Jesus was still asleep, completely covered with the sailcloth. Perhaps he couldn't yet feel the water, but surely the pitching would awaken him.

But it didn't.

The wind became violent and John and I reefed the sail. The bare mast swung violently in the storm and the water was becoming deep in the bottom of the boat. It was hopeless to navigate, so I tied down the tiller and began to bail with the others.

We needed every hand, but as I looked back at Jesus, he slept. I couldn't understand how he could sleep in this storm, but I was afraid to awaken him. I glanced at the disciples and could tell they felt the same way. As they bailed they would glance back at Jesus.

The water was at our calves and I was afraid we would sink in minutes.

Then Andrew waded back to the stern. I could see he was angry and I knew what he was doing.

He shook Jesus' shoulder.

"Teacher," he yelled over the storm, "Don't you care if we drown?"

Jesus pulled the sailcloth from his face and blinked as the rain splattered in his face, but he sat up, then, holding the tiller, he stood and raised an arm toward the sky.

"Quiet!" he said, "Be still!"

I thought for a moment that he was rebuking us for disturbing his rest, but then - swiftly and quietly - the wind died down and the waves receeded. In seconds hundreds of raindrops became tens, then just a few, and then none at all. And my boat floated gently on the water.

I stood in astonishment, ignoring the water which swirled about my legs.

Jesus looked at his disciples. "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

I was glad Jesus didn't look at me; I was so close. And like the disciples, I just stared, even more frightened of Him than I was of the storm.

Jesus lay back on the cushion, pulled the sailcloth over his face and once again fell asleep.

It was silent in the boat.

I looked at Jesus for a moment and then at the sky, rapidly clearing, with the stars shining brightly. And at the sea, now gently lapping against the side of my boat. But as I looked down, the water was still cold around my legs.

Why I was so quiet I don't know, but I picked up a bucket and began bailing, pouring the water gently over the side of the boat. I don't know why I was so careful - if Jesus could sleep through that storm he could sleep through my bailing - but still, I felt I must be quiet.

I think the disciples felt the same way, because from the stern I could hear a whispered conversation. Just bits and pieces came to me, but I remember so clearly them saying: "Who is this? Even the water and the waves obey him!"

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